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High Road

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  • | 3:39 p.m. January 7, 2011
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Fred Pezeshkan's career has been buffeted by revolutions and economic downturns, but his ability to peer accurately into the future and act on that vision has turned the commercial builder into a longtime survivor.

Educated in English boarding schools and graduated from engineering school at Ohio State, the native of Iran returned to that country to oversee hundreds of millions of dollars worth of housing and commercial building projects before fleeing the Iranian revolution in 1978.

Pezeshkan, whose father was a lawyer and financial adviser to the Shah of Iran, started over in Naples with a small firm called Kraft Construction. Over the years, he grew the company into one of the largest commercial builders on the Gulf Coast and became one of the region's most influential business executives. Many major construction projects on the Gulf Coast bear Kraft's signature, from condominium towers to academic buildings and hotels.

A different kind of revolution threatened Pezeshkan's business in recent years, this one sparked by a global financial meltdown and a depression in Florida's construction industry.

To survive, Pezeshkan, 62, sold a majority interest in Kraft to Tulsa, Okla.-based Manhattan Construction Co., owned by Francis Rooney, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and Naples resident. Kraft is now a subsidiary of Manhattan and recently was renamed Manhattan Kraft Construction. “Private sector work was shrinking and we needed to grow beyond Florida,” Pezeshkan explains.

It was through his network that Pezeshkan met Rooney, whose Rooney Holdings is one of the largest privately held companies in the country, according to Forbes magazine. That has given Kraft the wherewithal to expand beyond the Gulf Coast and into new businesses such as road building, stadium construction and solar power. It recently was awarded the $53 million VA clinic in Cape Coral and the $75 million Red Sox spring-training stadium in Lee County.

This foresight comes about by getting out of the office and letting the people you hire do their job. “Part of your duty is to give time to the community,” says Pezeshkan, whose passions are education and economic development.

Pezeshkan's involvement includes the boards of Florida Gulf Coast University, Ave Maria University and Edison State College, and economic development groups such as the Horizon Council in Lee County.

Pezeshkan's energy seems boundless. He regularly attends nonprofit functions three to four nights a week, often putting in 12 to 15 hours a day. “You have to enjoy that kind of thing,” he explains with a smile. “It's giving back not only financially, but with time.”

To develop a network in Collier County, it's important to meet with executives of large companies in Naples, such as hospital operator Health Management Associates and Allen Software Solutions, Pezeshkan says. Two significant nonprofits include the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts and the Naples Children & Education Foundation.

Pezeshkan says his network is divided roughly into thirds. One-third is social, the second third is business and the third is community involvement. The key is to separate business goals and social relationships.

For example, Pezeshkan and Florida developer Al Hoffman have been close friends, but they let their employees make business decisions. “Many times we didn't get the job,” Pezeshkan says. “As you mature, you learn that you have to separate business and friendships.” He adds: “You always have to take the high road.”

To earn business, Pezeshkan says Kraft must maintain its reputation, experience, quality and competitive pricing. “You can only win if you have the right ingredients,” he says. “That's how you last a long time being in business.”

Although he's been active in state and national fundraising for Republican candidates for public office, Pezeshkan says he stays out of local politics. “It's more controversial, so we've tried to stay away from local politics,” he says.

Instead, Pezeshkan says Kraft has been a supporter of organizations such as homebuilding industry groups that tackle local political issues such as taxes on new construction.


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